Margaret Blechynden’s Last Will and Testament, 1682

Margaret Blechynden (nee Aldersey) died in c 1683. Her will was first published in 1682/3 but then republished in July 1683 “least it should be lost”. It is worth reflecting on the will because it shows that she was not just the wife of a cleric (albeit one who initially enjoyed noble and Royal patronage) but someone with social standing in her own right. When she writes her will she describes herself as being of the Parish of St Paul Covent Garden which was still at that time a fashionable part of town for the gentry and nobility. She makes no specific request about where to be buried just that she be decently buried according to the Liturgy of the Church of England. So, until a burial record comes to light we don’t know if she is buried with her husband – likely to be buried in Aldington in Kent – or in London, or perhaps with her Cheshire family.

Provision for her children in her will

There is no reference to land or properties in her will, bar a passing reference (see below), so presumably those were set out in her husband’s will. We know that her son Thomas was heir to the properties in Kent and specifically the family home in Ruffins Hill, but it is nevertheless surprising not to see some reference to this. In terms of financial provision she gives her two sons, Thomas and Theophilat “five broad pieces of Gold” each and her daughters (Anne, Mary, Margaret, Dorothy) get “five pounds a piece in silver” which are in lieu of the legacy of five pounds a piece that were in their fathers will. Clearly they never received what was in their fathers will but Magaret justifies this by saying that she is “well satisfied that I have made up to my daughters much more of their portions then ever came to my hands”.

There is a confusing passage in the will where Margaret chides her son Thomas for not being as careful as he should have been in receiving and accounting the rent of the Courtlage (the only property mentioned) and says to “supply his default” she is willing to give £200 divided into three parts but none of the thirds go to Thomas! One third goes to daughter Margaret, one third goes to Dorothy and one third to daughter Mary’s children. Mary gets no part of the £200 because her mother previously gave her £100 “besides other advantages”.

There is a further £50 which is divided between Margaret’s sons – half to Theophilat and half amongst Thomas’ children.

Gifts to wider members of the family

George Saville, 1st Marquess of Halifax, statesman, writer and politician

After the financial provision to her children and grandchildren Margaret Blechynden sets out who is to receive her jewellry and other items of value. This is interesting because it helps to confirm family relationships. The first mentioned in her will is “my Lord Halifax” who is bequeathed “the Medall of King Charles the first in gold and the small ring tied to it.”  Lord Halifax is George Savile, 1st Marquess of Halifax, the son of her cousin Anne Coventry via her marriage to Sir William Savile (3rd Baronet of Thornhill, an ardent Royalist who was killed in action in 1644). Anne Coventry was the daughter of Thomas Coventry, 1st Baron Coventry of Aylesborough, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal and Elizabeth Aldersey, sister to Samuel Aldersey. I could write much about Lord Halifax but for now will just note that he was took the popular side on the occasion of the trial of the Seven Bishops in June 1688, visited them in the Tower of London, and led the cheers with which the verdict of “not guilty” was received in court. I mention this because one of the seven bishops was the Bishop of Peterborough, Thomas White, nephew of Dr Thomas Blechynden and Rev Francis Blechynden as mentioned in an earlier post.

Margaret’s Sister Venables

The next item that Margaret bequeathes is her “biggest Diamond Ring” to her sister Venables which was their mothers. Her sister Venables is Elizabeth Aldersey who married first Thomas Lee esq. of Darnhall, Cheshire and had seven children. One of the children, her nephew Thomas Lee, is named in Margaret’s will as a sort of assistant to the Executor of the will. Elizabeth’s husband Thomas Lee died in 1642 and she eventually remarried General Robert Venables of Antrobus and Winsham. Unlike many of Margaret Blechynden’s family and friends General Venables fought on the Parliamentarian side but they did not marry until 1654.

Elizabeth’s diary has been published along with an account of the life of General Robert Venables and provides useful insights and information for family historians. General Venables died in 1687 and Elizabeth Venables in 1689.

The next item Margaret bequeathes is her large pearl ring which she gives to her son Theophilat’s wife. Unfortunately she does not name her and I have not been able to identify her. It may be an “Elizabeth” given a baptism record I have found – George Blechenden son of Theopheleck and Elizabeth Blechenden, 12 Jun 1688, in Rochester Kent – but I have no other information at this time.

sir samuel eyre

Sir Samuel Eyre

Margaret’s next bequest is to her nephew Sir Samuel Eyre, son of her sister Anne Aldersey and Robert Eyre, barrister, of Salisbury and Chilham. Sir Samuel Eyre was born in 1633, and inherited the estate of Bonhams from his great-uncle William Eyre. He was a lawyer of some emminence and one the the puisne judges of the Kings Bench. Margaret Blechynden names Samuel Eyre as her Executor later in the will and leaves to him her “small Diamond ring and my pair of Golds called a double Spur: royal”. From what I understand the gold Spur Royal was a coin struck in very limited numbers during the reign of James 1. Today only 20 are thought to be in existance. Presumably they had a rarity value when Margaret made her will in 1682 which is why she specifically refers to them unlike the “five broad pieces of gold” she gives to her sons.

Margaret also gives to Samuel Eyre’s wife her “small sapphire ring with two small diamonds”. Samuel Eyre’s wife is Martha Lucy, third daughter and co-hieress of Francis Lucy Esq (fifth son of Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote). Through this marriage Samuel Eyre acquires the estate of Brightwalton in Berkshire.

My Lady Thynne

Margaret Blechynden then refers to “my Lady Thynne” and bequeathes to her a “ring of Three Diamonds and two deaths heads” which her mother gave to her. There are two possible options here. My Lady Thynne could refer to her cousin Mary Coventry who married Henry Frederick Thynne. It is possible that Mary’s mother Elizabeth Aldersey gave Margaret Blechynden a ring which she then returns to her daughter. When Henry Frederick Thynne makes his will in 1678 his wife Dame Mary Thynne is named so may still be alive when Margaret makes her will in 1682. The alternative option is that the rings were given to Margaret Blechynden by her cousin Mary Coventry/Thynne and that “my Lady Thynne” is a reference to her daughter-in-law Frances Finch who married Thomas Thynne of Longleat who became the second baronet after his father’s death in 1679/80.

View of Longleat, 1678, Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum

Thomas Thynne was made 1st Viscount Weymouth on 11 December 1682 and it appears as if close family ties remained between the Blechyndens and the Thynne’s as, in his will dated 1709, Thomas Thynne mentions “his kinsman Captain Blechynden and to his son, the testator’s godson 50l. each“. Captain Blechynden is Theophilat, son of Margaret and Thomas Blechynden.

Margaret Blechynden also bequeathes to “my Lady Thynne” her french enamelled ring which was given to her by “my Lady Savile having her haires in it”.   Lady Savile is, I believe, her cousin Anne Coventry, wife of Sir William Savile and mother of Lord Halifax mentioned above. This very personal item, along with the various bequests, does suggest a close relationship between Margaret Blechynden and her surviving sisters, her Coventry cousins and their families. There are a couple of Coventry cousins not mentioned in the will that are worth mentioning briefly here: Dorothy Coventry who was famed for her intellect, her writings and her piety. She married Sir John Packington and died in 1679. Second, Margaret Coventry who died in 1649 when just 29. Her husband was Sir Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury. Here, close family relationships end, as the Lords Halifax and Shaftesbury became bitter political rivals and most famously debated, for many hours, the second Exclusion Bill in the House of Lords, with the eloquence of Halifax carrying the day for the King. This debate is credited with leading to the creation of the two political parties – the Whigs and the Tories.

Final Bequests

For completion, I have set out the remaining items of Margaret Blechynden’s will. Other than her children named I haven’t been able to identify the following:

  • Mrs Margaret Jones of Chester is given two pairs of Golds wrapt about a black ribbon;  
  • Her wedding ring, seven other small rings, and any remaining Golds are to be divided between her three unmaried daughters and son Theophilat;
  • Her daughter Anne receives one of Margaret’s Silver Porringers and spoons and Mr J Wight gets the other of them;
  • Mrs Tate, formerly Mrs Guyn, is given her silver tankards and her daughter her silver cordial cup and spoons.

Blechynden almshouses

Finally, after all debts being paid and funeral costs discharged Margaret leaves the “rest and residue of my Estate” to the building of a house for “Six poore Widdows and in purchasing of lands of Inheritance for their support and the repairing of the house forever”. She entrusts this final charitable act to her Executor, her nephew Sir Samuel Eyre who, in 1684, purchased a site in Winchester Street in Salisbury for £120 10s. and built the almshouse on it for £99 15s. 9d.. I understand that these are still operational today and provide sheltered accommodation.